Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 6 of 27

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Hermione could not recall exactly what had woken her so violently at the Manor. She knew it had something to do with Lucius, but it was his manner afterwards which was now gnawing at her mind. She could remember at least that he had been standing very close to her when she opened her eyes and had then suddenly backed off.

Had he been about to hurt her? She could not believe that.

What then? And why had he become so diffident afterwards? She got the distinct impression that he had been examining her, studying her. And her reaction to it had been almost as disturbing as finding him there. It may have scared her, but there was no denying that it also thrilled her.

She recalled their conversation. She had been very easy with him, happy to talk about Ron and their relationship. She was not entirely sure why, but knew it had not troubled her at all. Malfoy had enough experience of his own, but he was also sufficiently distanced from the intimacy of her situation to have been, in her mind at least, the perfect ear. And he had been content to listen.

She smiled to herself. Lucius Malfoy, content to listen to a Muggle-born.

Hermione could no longer deny that he seemed to want moments in her company, and she was more than happy to spend time with him. Even their moments of silence were interesting and rarely awkward, although she had not enjoyed eating in front of him earlier. After all, you never looked your best when eating. She shook her head. What did that matter?

Should she remind herself of who he had been? It seemed foolish at this stage. If he was willing to accept her, then she should also be prepared to move on from the past. And, as he had said, she had never personally seen him killing anybody. Perhaps, she had been too quick to judge.

Hermione ate her supper alone in her flat. She glanced around the empty room. It was personal enough, and she had made it home, but it still lacked life and soul. Malfoy Manor had been similar when she had first entered it, but the moments she had spent with Malfoy in the sitting room were intimate and enticing. She almost wished she was there now. It would be good to go back tomorrow. Space came to life through the people who moved within it, through the interaction between them.

As she wrapped herself up alone in bed that night, Hermione's mind could see only one thing - a pair of limpid grey eyes, staring out of a finely carved face; a face, she had to admit, that she rather enjoyed looking at.

When she arrived at the Manor the next day, it was not yet eight o'clock. She had to wait longer than usual on the doorstep. Grimble eventually pulled the heavy door back with his usual mutterings and moanings.

"Morning, Grimble!" Her voice sounded unnaturally bright in the darkness of the house.

"You're early."

"Am I? Sorry - is it a problem?"

The elf mumbled something indistinct, but Hermione could hear also the instruction for her to go up and get on with her work.

"And how is Mr Malfoy this morning?" She was not sure why she had asked it.

"My master is not here."

Hermione stopped dead before remembering to move on. "Oh."

The force of her disappointment surprised her. Malfoy had assured her of his being there only the night before.

She glanced at Grimble; the elf had a snide smirk on his face. She turned away and headed off, trying to mask her reaction. But it was impossible. At the foot of the stairs, she looked back. "And when is he to return?"

Grimble's sneer deepened.

"He is due back in an hour or so."

"I see. I'll ... get on with my work then."

The elf glared one final time before disappearing into the depths of the house.

Hermione went into the library, shutting the door behind her and leaning against it with a sigh. The extent of her feelings surprised her. Coupled with disappointment was the undeniable relief she had felt when he had said Malfoy would be back soon. Hermione shook herself and immediately settled down to work. She was alone in the vast house. She missed the company of anyone to whom she had become accustomed, that was all.

After working diligently for two hours, she at last allowed herself a break and was pleased to note that she could not recall thinking about the house's owner once in that time.

She needed the loo. The bathroom was just down the hallway. It was one of the few forays she ever made out of the library. She hurried from the room and turned along the landing. She practically ran into Lucius, coming along the other way.

Hermione looked up in surprise and knew her cheeks had reddened. "Oh! Hello! Good morning." She swallowed hard.

"Good morning, Miss Granger."

Malfoy had clearly just returned from outside; walking, riding possibly. He had outdoor clothes on, not his usual robes, although he was still clad entirely in black. His hair was dishevelled and his cheeks were slightly flushed from exertion. She was surprised to see him like that but not displeased. He looked completely human.

"How are you today, Mr Malfoy?" Her enquiry was entirely genuine.

"Well, Miss Granger." He paused then fixed his eyes into hers. "And you?"

"Good, thank you ... all refreshed for another day!" She laughed at her cheesy comment, her eyes dancing. He noted it.

Hermione's laughter subsided. Malfoy stood before her. Neither moved. She wanted to say something to him but was not sure what. It was he who broke the silence.

"Have you brought your lunch today? Grimble can provide you with something if you wish."

"Thank you but I have plenty."

He nodded but did not move away. She took a step along the corridor. "Excuse me. I need to ..." Hermione didn't finish her sentence and lowered her head, giggling softly in embarrassment.

She started to walk past him but stopped and turned back. He hadn't moved and was watching her as she went.

"Mr Malfoy?" His eyebrow rose to acknowledge her enquiry. "Would you mind if I took a walk in your grounds occasionally? It can be quite stifling inside all day, and you have such beautiful gardens."

He did not at first respond and she feared she had asked too much. His features were tense and he averted his eyes. Then suddenly he looked back at her and spoke, calm and clear, "Of course, Miss Granger."

She smiled. "Thank you. I'd like that very much." She took a few steps down the corridor.

"Miss Granger!" His voice was sudden and insistent. Hermione looked back in surprise. "I shall accompany you around the immediate grounds after lunch. It will be worthwhile having a guide on your first visit to the gardens. They can be disorientating. Be in the hall at half past one." With that Malfoy strode swiftly past her and disappeared down a dark corridor.

Hermione stood looking after him. As he vanished from view, she felt her mouth forming into a smile. There was no doubting he was looking for opportunities to spend time with her. And she was more than happy to oblige. He fascinated her. Malfoy was a complex, intelligent man, who seemed to be confronting the issues of his past beliefs, if not deconstructing them.

Lunch could not come soon enough.

At one o'clock she ate her sandwich quickly. It only took her a few minutes. She daren't go downstairs before half past. She tried to sort through a few more books but found herself unable to focus on them.

At last it was a few minutes before half past. She wrapped up in her coat and scarf and went downstairs as casually as she could.

The hall was empty. Her footsteps resounded in the echoing space. Then, just as the clock struck the half hour, Malfoy appeared out of the gloom. He was once again dressed entirely in black with the exception of a pure white cashmere scarf coiled around his neck. It complemented and highlighted his hair, imparting a further radiance to it. In his right hand he held his cane. Hermione glanced at it. She associated the object so much with his past that she found herself taking an instinctive step back from him. But then she stopped herself and stood tall, lifting her eyes to his. He cocked an eyebrow. His face had lost the somewhat gaunt quality he had exhibited when she first had arrived at the manor, and his eyes were alight as he looked across at her. She had never seen anyone look so effortlessly elegant and at ease with their own physical presence. Not only did it appeal to her own aesthetic values, she was also pleased to see him regaining some of the self-assurance he had lost. Her unease over the cane vanished.

"Mr Malfoy. Good afternoon." She surprised herself at how assured she sounded; flirtatious even.

"Miss Granger." The arrogant drawl of old was back. But instead of intimidating her, she found it heightening her confidence.

Hermione glanced down at his cane again. "Do you still keep your wand in there?"

Malfoy cocked an eyebrow, then in a swift and fluid movement, withdrew his wand elegantly from within the cane. He took a step towards her and held it up so that it was pointing directly at her. He locked eyes with her for a moment, a slight smirk tickling the corners of his mouth. She inhaled deeply but silently and held his gaze steadily, not showing the alarm which had suddenly gripped her. Malfoy's eyes moved to his wand, and he frowned slightly in an exaggerated show of studying it.

"Apparently so." She had never heard two words spoken so smooth and low. She swallowed hard. 'It is a replacement. The other was ... broken.'

His eyes moved back to hers, and with a deepening of the smile, he replaced his wand as swiftly and smoothly as he had retracted it, back into the cane. Then with his free arm, he swept his hand out to the side, indicating for her to walk. "Shall we?"

Hermione lowered her head and allowed herself to be guided by him. He led her along dark corridors and through gloomy, vast rooms towards the back of the house. Hermione could detect great tapestries, ornate furniture, beautiful paintings adorning every inch of space, but none were in a state to be examined. All were hidden under the pall of darkness which pervaded the house. Malfoy walked purposefully until he came to some large oak doors in a drawing room of some kind. After turning several locks, as well as incanting a few spells, he was able to turn the great handle, and slowly one side of the enormous doors opened.

Light flooded the room, and Hermione saw details she longed to study, but her eye was equally drawn outside. The gardens were vast, and on the whole, still well landscaped and maintained to a reasonable standard. It was a freezing day in early December and the frosty air smelt clean and sharp, tinged with the soothing balm of wood smoke. Hermione stepped through, almost forgetting her place, and breathed in deep.

She shut her eyes and inhaled, then opened them again. A long rectangular pond stretched away from her, dropping out of sight onto a lower terrace, then again onto another. On either side of the pond were hedges, trimmed and shaped into intricate patterns. Despite the absence of summer colour, the gardens were still rich and invigorating. A broad grin broke out on Hermione's face.


Malfoy grimaced and muttered under his breath, "I really must employ more grounds staff. The place is shabby."

Hermione looked up at him in surprise. "Why the sudden concern for your gardens, Mr Malfoy? You don't seem to be bothered about the interior of your house."

He sneered. "That remains largely unchanged with minimal maintenance. Gardens, on the other hand, require a more dynamic approach."

Hermione cast her eyes over the lawns again. As she studied them, she could indeed see weeds growing in the beds and suspected that if growth had not been paralysed by the season that the hedges would indeed be overgrown and lacking care.

"May I go down there?" She said, pointing to a walled garden off to the right.

"Hmm." He strode ahead of her, leading the way.

They walked along paths, gravel crunching under their feet. Hermione shivered.

"Are you cold, Miss Granger?"

"It doesn't matter. My body's just adjusting to being outdoors. I've been shut up in there for too long."

"In there?"

"Yes. We all need to get out sometimes. As you did this morning."

He didn't at first say anything, but then the cold air was pierced byhis voice. "I did not go far."

"It's of no matter to me where you went, Mr Malfoy."


Silence. They reached the walled garden. Hermione almost raced in. It was like something from a fairy tale. There were some rose bushes, and several small trees, which in the spring would be covered in blossom. The garden was overgrown but this gave it further charm which delighted Hermione. She ran through it, ducking under overhanging branches and rushing along the paths.

Malfoy watched her carefully. The woman was more alive than anything he could remember witnessing for some time.

At length she returned to where Malfoy stood, her cheeks flushed from the cold and her race around the paths. She smiled up at him, standing impenetrably before her. His mouth was set straight, but she thought she could see a warmth in his eyes, which was usually absent.

"This is a perfect place," she beamed up at him.

"That is a matter of opinion."

"Clearly. Alright then - this is a perfect place ... for me."

She waited for him to speak again. He did not. She turned away from him to look back into the garden. "You must send your gardener here first. In the spring this place should be singing with new life and magic. It will be beautiful."

"Ah, but you will not be here to experience it, so it is futile for you to preoccupy your mind with worrying about it."

"You can experience it."

"I fear I would not appreciate it in the same manner as you."

He was trying to be sarcastic but she could detect genuine remorse in his tone. Hermione looked up at him. He slowly lowered his eyes into hers. She felt a jolt deep inside. Malfoy did not look away. She knew she was becoming increasingly red.

Hermione swiftly dropped her head and walked to the gate. "Come along then. Where next?"

After a moment of silence, he lowered the tip of his cane to the ground and walked past her.

They continued on, strolling contentedly through high hedges, low borders and orchards. Malfoy kept up a running commentary most of the time. He was remarkably knowledgeable about his grounds and frequently punctuated his discourse with an exclamation of annoyance at how neglected the gardens were looking. It gave Hermione a feeling of satisfaction to know that he was apparently admitting his own lack of care. He seemed to have reached a turning point. She felt a certain pride that it seemed to be due to her. She dared to speak boldly again.

"Don't you get lonely, Mr Malfoy?"

No answer. But whereas before she would have feared his reaction, now she just waited. He often took time to respond to a question.

"I did not think so."

"Did not?"

"After all that happened, I seemed to need some time to ... reacquaint ... myself with who I was. That is best achieved alone."

She waited before asking, "And who are you?"

He stopped and looked down at her, annoyance clear on his face but not anger. "What an inquisitive little thing you are, Miss Granger."

"You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

"I am fully aware of that." He turned to continue walking. It seemed he was not going to answer.

Hermione was not deterred. "Self-analysis is often not the best way to understand oneself. Other people's views and perspectives tend to draw things into focus more effectively than hours of sitting alone contemplating one's navel."

"Again, you astound me with your articulacy." The sarcastic twang amused her. She smiled. They continued walking in silence.

"You said, you did not think so. Does that mean you do now think you get lonely?"

"I think I have recently come to a clearer understanding of what being lonely means."

She stopped and looked up at him. He met her eyes for a moment, then looked beyond her. She was touched by his openness.

"I like our little chats, Mr Malfoy."

He stopped abruptly, his face tense. Why did she insist on this conviviality? He wanted to deny her, to contradict her claim. He opened his mouth, intending to quash her notion but no words emerged. But he certainly would not acknowledge that he too gained from their dialogue, that he did in fact look forward to the moments he could converse with her, that he created opportunities for it to happen.

The woman was looking up at him, those deep brown eyes dancing in the midst of the smooth, pale skin, the skin he had so longed to touch yesterday. Her soft breath rose from her full dark lips in regular misty clouds, floating up towards him. He could not help inhaling. She smelt so sweet. Why had his throat suddenly become so dry?

Malfoy turned away swiftly. "You have a great deal to do. Let us return." He walked away, his cane digging into the gravel as he went. Hermione looked after him. Despite the frosty air temperature, she was feeling remarkably warm.

He had walked rapidly ahead of her, and by the time she reached the house, he was standing in the hallway. He did not meet her gaze.

"Thank you for showing me the gardens. I'll go back up for a few hours."

"Very well." He sounded terse. She knew she had tested him but was pleased he had not reacted more aggressively.

Hermione made her way back to the library. Lucius retreated to the sitting room.

He immediately poured himself a large drink, and slumped into the chair before the fire.

'Like our little chats!'

How presumptuous the woman was!

But the truth remained. He was chatting to her, and although he would never admit it to her, he too was enjoying it. But it was the nature of the chats that he found disarming. Both he and the Muggle-born seemed incapable of small talk. Whenever they conversed, they invariably asked searching and personal questions designed to elicit deep answers. Why couldn't they just talk about the weather like every other good Englishman, for Merlin's sake? He tutted loudly and took a large swig of whisky.

Time ticked away. He heard the clock strike quarter to. It was nearly five. She would go imminently. He listened for her footsteps. The ticking of the clock drove him mad.

Then Lucius Malfoy stood and strode to the door. He was out of it and up the stairs more rapidly than he had moved for an age.

He swept hard along the corridor and flung open the door to the library.

Hermione screamed again and spun around, her eyes wide in shock.

"For God's sake, stop doing that!"

What did the woman mean? "What?"

"Snea ..." She stopped herself and rethought her words. "Coming up behind me unannounced. You could at least knock."

The eyebrow was up again. "This is my own home, Miss Granger. I am not accustomed to having to knock within it."

"Well ... even so ... I mean ..." She was clearly frustrated. Her cheeks were flushed and she flailed her hands around in an attempt to express herself. He could only admit that she was appealing to look at. Some people would even find her beautiful, he imagined. She at last found more words. "It's just common courtesy."

Malfoy continued to look across at her. He was still standing in the doorway, and without moving his eyes from her, he raised his arm behind the door and knocked slowly and distinctly three times.

Hermione exhaled an embarrassed laugh and hung her head, her cheeks flushing yet further.

Yes, some people would certainly find her beautiful.

Hermione looked across. The tall man in the doorway had that same smirk on his face she had seen earlier. It suited him, she thought.

Malfoy did not move into the room. She waited. He seemed to have forgotten why he was there.

"What can I do for you, Mr Malfoy?"

With that, Malfoy inhaled deeply and turned his gaze away from her. He stepped a little inside.

"Miss Granger. Do you intend to return here tomorrow?"

"I will if that is alright with you."

"Hm. In that case, may I suggest you stay the night? Apparition can be disorientating and debilitating if done too frequently. There seems little point in you returning to your house at this time only to return first thing tomorrow."

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. He stared back.

"I have to feed my cat."

Silence. They continued looking awkwardly at each other.


Something flicked across his face. It reminded her of disappointment. He turned to go without another word.

"Mr Malfoy!"

He stopped and looked back over his shoulder.

"On second thoughts, she has enough to last her until tomorrow night. She usually sneaks into my neighbour's house for some extras anyway. I ... I think I'll accept your offer. Thank you."

The lines around his mouth seemed to soften. "Very well. I shall tell Grimble to prepare you a room." He moved out, then stopped and looked back at her with that increasingly tangible smirk. "My room is located in another wing, far from where you will be ... in case you were wondering if old habits really do die hard." The smirk deepened a little, then he was gone.

Hermione sat down on the wooden chair she worked at with a thud. Had he really just asked her to stay the night? She looked around her. She had started to pack away her things. Should she now continue? Was he expecting her to go downstairs? Her questions were answered a short time later when Grimble appeared at the door.

"I am to show you to your room."

The elf stepped out into the corridor. Hermione quickly gathered up the things she needed and hurried after him. She followed Grimble, who was walking surprisingly rapidly for such a little being, through long corridors, up stairs, into doorways. She did not have a moment to take in any details, but everywhere she went, as with downstairs, the walls were hung with portraits and tapestries. Fine furniture adorned corners and alcoves. But still, Hermione noted, cobwebs clung to them and windows remained boarded up. The feeling of melancholy permeated into her, and she lowered her head, walking rapidly on after Grimble.

At last, they came to a large door. The elf opened it and motioned her in. Hermione was standing in a large and graciously decorated room. It had a four-poster bed, and a fire crackled welcomingly in the hearth. In the middle of the room was a table, set out with a meal for her. This room, at least, had clearly been cleaned immaculately.

"Grimble, you really do surpass yourself with your cooking. Thank you so much."

The elf looked up at her with the same expression of icy disdain she had witnessed when she first arrived. "I am only doing as I am bid. The bathroom is in there. You should find everything you need. If you do require anything else you are to call me. Use the 'servicio' charm and I will come up." He walked to the door, but just before he left, he turned back with a sly smile. "Oh ... and I wouldn't go wandering around in the night, if I were you. In this house, it's very easy to get ... lost."

When the door had shut firmly, Hermione fell back onto the bed with a giggle. If she had to have an unexpected stopover somewhere, this would do very nicely. She ran her hands over the rich coverings on the bed. All semblance of faded neglect had been swept from this room; deep magic had clearly been used to get it ready for her in such a short time. At length, she got up and sat at the small table to eat her supper.

As she ate, she was aware that Lucius Malfoy was somewhere in the house, perhaps eating his own supper. But she had little desire to put Grimble's warning to the test. For now, she was quite content to eat and sleep.

As she went to the bathroom to wash, she found a silk nightdress hanging on the back of the door. She frowned in surprise, wondering if it had belonged to another woman, most likely Narcissa. But she noticed a label still tied to the shoulder strap. It had probably been left there to indicate to her the truth - it was brand new.

Hermione got ready for bed and slipped it on. The silk fell smooth and warm over her skin, sliding down along her curves. She climbed into bed and waved her wand to put the fire out. She glanced a final time around the room, then blew her candle out. As she nestled down into the soft sheets, an owl hooted outside. She listened for any further sounds, but there were none. The house, as ever, was silent. For once, she was happy to melt into it. Before she allowed sleep to carry her away, she briefly wondered where exactly Lucius Malfoy's bedroom was in relation to hers.

On the other side of the house, the owner of Malfoy Manor lay awake, staring into the darkness.

There was a Muggle-born asleep in his house.

But instead of the revulsion he expected to feel, he found himself instead wondering what her preferred sleeping position was.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 6 of 27

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